THE IRONIC THING ABOUT 'FREE' CAMPING
Here's the ironic thing about 'free' camping... you kinda have to be a bit rich to do it.
Particularly here in NZ, but more and more in Australia also, in order to 'free' or 'freedom' camp as they call it here you've first got to spend a hell of a lot of money getting set up.
The vast majority of free or low cost freedom style campsites here in New Zealand require your RV to be Certified Self Contained (CSC) to stay there. Meaning you need things like fresh and grey water tanks, and a toilet. The sorts of things that your lower cost options like a tent, a smaller van, or an older caravan often don't have. And sure, you can do what we've done and modify an older van to comply with the CSC rules, but I can tell you thats not a particularly cheap and easy process either.
So as a result you get a certain style of camper at your average free camp. They generally have much bigger, much more expensive rigs than us, and as a result tend to be a little bit older. And that's fine, we have no problem with that at all. I mean we stay at these sorts of sites ourselves an awful lot, and if we could afford a big fancy RV we'd probably have one. We love the freedom of being able to choose from so many great camping places across the country and just pull in without needing any facilities, and without spending too much money, freeing up funds to spend supporting other local businesses.
But we also stay at a lot of Department of Conservation (DOC) sites too. Where you don't have to be self contained. Where there's often a drop toilet, and maybe even a cold shower available. Where you can camp in anything you like, including a tent, and where you can water the grass after you've finished doing your dishes. And as a result we find they've got a completely different vibe. Because we're not just seeing richer, older campers in fancy big rigs. We're seeing average Kiwi families in their cheap tents from The Warehouse, or their old canvas classics passed down through generations, or gorgeous old Kiwi caravans just like our own, but in their original state with a whole family piled in. And, more so in pre Covid days, but also occasionally still now, we see backpackers from all over the world in their little whizz bangers bringing back memories of our backpacking days doing the same across Europe.
And we love it. We love the vibe of campsites that have a more diverse range of people. We love that people are getting out and seeing this gorgeous country even if they don't have tons of cash. But it saddens us too to think that these people don't have the same options we do, and are so limited by where they can camp because they're not in a rig that's CSC.
We get that they're trying to keep New Zealand clean and green. But if there's one thing we've learned after all these years on the road it's this: the rig you drive absolutely does not reflect your own personal morals. You get good and bad in every bunch and your young kiwi family in a tent, or your overseas backpacker in a van is just as capable of being a responsible camper as your grey nomad in an expensive big rig. And just because you drive a modern vehicle with it's little CSC sticker on the back doesn't mean you won't dump your rubbish, grey water, or even black water where you shouldn't.
Something has been lost along the way here. Somehow we've prioritised people in big RV's over average Kiwi families in tents. So even though we've got the best of both worlds in our little old camper with it's CSC sticker on the back, budget travelling with a family, with an entire country full of amazing camping spots at our disposal, we feel like something isn't quite right. Because why should we have access to more places than all these other great people we meet who can't afford a rig like ours (which, lets face it, is about the bottom of the rung when it comes to affordability as it is)?
In our push to legislate freedom camping are we losing something really tangible and important about the Kiwi (& Aussie) lifestyle? Are we turning camping from an accessible family holiday into an elitist endeavor only available to those who can afford it?
I don't know what the answer is here, but camped up surrounded by wonderful, responsible, fellow campers this summer in their tents and vintage vans, many of which were young families, sure made me realise what camping must have been like once upon a time. And I really hope we never lose that. Because it's truly special